Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half
People have been asking for a “practical” post so here is a topic with instant application–grocery shopping.
You can’t change your mortgage or car payments immediately, but if you don’t already shop at discount stores, you can cut your costs by 40-50% with almost no additional sacrifice. For a family of four these savings can easily equal $100 or more per week. That’s over $5000 a year!
Here are some of the huge advantages of shopping at discount stores:
- Almost everything is cheaper. As long as you are buying the same items you usually would, you will save 40-50% off regular grocery store prices. If you’re awesome at shopping sales & cutting coupons your savings may be somewhat less, but still substantial.
- The store is smaller. Bigger is better if you want 10 choices for everything, but when you have small children or are just short on time, smaller stores make shopping more expedient. Plus, you’re less likely to spend extra when there are fewer items to entice you.
- Shopping is simpler. You don’t need to follow weekly sales or cut coupons. It’s easier and less time-consuming before and during shopping. Also, you don’t have to memorize the prices. Some people have a knack for this and thus can spot deals, but if these details don’t stick with you, discount stores will save you precious memory space.
- Better guarantees. For example, ALDI has a “double money back guarantee” which allows the shopper to return an unwanted item for a refund AND replace it with a new product. Most big chain grocery stores don’t allow returns on perishables, even if you unwittingly bought something moldy, rotten, or expired.
- Increasing options. Some discount stores, including ALDI, now offer organic, all natural, lower calorie, and gluten free options, plus seasonal items. Many also carry inexpensive basic toiletries, paper products, and household items.
And did I mention everything is cheaper?
(I don’t work for ALDI, I just shop there.)
But I know what you’re thinking. So let’s handle some common objections to shopping discount stores:
The food is low quality or unsafe. I’ve been shopping at ALDI, Save-a-lot (less frequently), and a local discount chain for 12 years and never had something seriously wrong with the food, including meat. It’s almost always comparable, and sometimes preferable, to brand name products. In the few instances I tried a product and didn’t like it, or even just bought produce that wasn’t good, I took it back & got a refund AND a replacement (only at ALDI). I’ve found way more expired items at the Big Store—probably because it’s too big.
It doesn’t have everything I need. There are certain brand name items we really prefer or the discount store doesn’t carry. So we stop by the Big Store periodically to stock up (if possible). But is it really worth spending TWICE AS MUCH! just so you can get everything in one stop? I have a baby and a toddler, and some weeks we’ve just bought sale items at the big store because we couldn’t go two places. I get it. That’s fine. But EVERY WEEK for the rest of your life spending TWICE AS MUCH! That’s nuts.
There isn’t one close to me. If there is a discount store within reasonable driving distance, take larger, less frequent trips such as every 2-4 weeks. Stock up on staples, frozen goods, anything that will last 2-4 weeks, and stop for milk and produce at the big expensive store in between.
I’ve heard Costco can be very economical if you do it right. We have great stores much closer so I’m not an expert on this, but look into it if you live near one. Walmart’s price-matching app is another way to get good grocery deals. Unfortunately this requires going to Walmart regularly.
The savings come from exploitation. There’s no way I can speak for every store or employee, but my research has led me to believe that rather than mistreating or underpaying employees, discount stores save money through a more efficient model. For example, ALDI maintains smaller stores, stocks with pallets, hires fewer employees, advertises less, doesn’t bag groceries, and “rents” carts. The Big Store is a big game—changing weekly sales, doubling certain coupons, and offering “free” fuel perks, babysitting, and food samples. There is no such thing as a free lunch and that’s why your lunch costs twice as much there.
For all the Trader Joe’s fans out there: did you know ALDI owns Trader Joe’s? I just wish we had one closer.
My spouse (or kids, or whomever) is skeptical. Just try it for one week! Or even one meal. If everything sucks, return or donate it, and go back to the Big Store. But I doubt you will.
So are you ready to take the discount store challenge? Here’s what you need to shop at ALDI:
- A quarter. Put it in the cart. Go shopping. Get it back out of the cart. See, it’s not so bad.
- Bring some bags. Better for the environment. If you forget, they sell ‘em cheap at the store, or grab some free boxes (leftover from stocking) and consider your daily workout done.
- Shop your usual list. Then compare receipts and start deciding what you’ll do with $5,000 more a year.
If you already shop at discount stores, good for you! I’ll offer more detailed grocery savings tips in the future. Stay tuned for pantry & shopping lists, meal planning ideas, and other principles.
I’d love to hear how the discount store challenge goes for you. Or from previous converts, what convinced you to change grocery stores?
34 Responses to “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half”
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Aldi’s is great. I just read somewhere that groceries are many American’s third largest expense. However, I need a good shopping list to follow so I don’t impulse buy too much.
Yes, food is a huge expense. As you can see from the picture, we try not to buy a lot of processed foods which is another way to save (although we had snacks leftover from Christmas).
Thanks so much for this, Kalie! Thanks to your personal example, I switched to discount grocery shopping ~2 years ago and couldn’t be more glad! Though I never compared receipts exactly, I can tell you I roughly cut our grocery costs in half with a combination of better-planned meals and grocery shopping and using primarily discount stores, with just occasional Big Store stops for select items (though usually there’s hardly any need, mostly just for foreign/exotic items). Stores like Marc’s (local to Northeast Ohio) are also great for those who like certain brand name items – I will say I am oddly attached to certain paper towel and toilet paper brands that are thicker/stronger than generics, but you can still find such items at a much better price then Big Stores! I say, no matter how much money you have or don’t have, why spend more that you have to?!
I agree with you completely, Mandy. Meal planning and going with a list are very important parts of cutting grocery costs. Marc’s is a good local option (that’s the chain I was referring to) and so are ethnic stores. They have better and cheaper cuisine-specific ingredients than Big Store. I’m with you on the certain generic paper products, too. In fact, I think many are less economical than certain brand names because you go through more.
And why spend more? Part of the thinking behind “pretending to be poor” is that all the extra bells & whistles we can spend money on don’t add much value to our lives, so why bother?
I think it’s cool to view ALDI’s efficiencies as awesome innovations that reduce waste and save us money. I saw a lady the other day visibly scoff at the cart/quarter system and leave without going into the store. And I think I felt the same way the first time I shopped there. “Isn’t there supposed to be a concierge offering me a cart? Maybe even offering to PUSH my cart for me? Now you’re asking ME to deposit a quarter to use a cart? Well, I never!” But then I started to “get” ALDI. I realized that they are doing ME a huge favor by offering a simple, lower-priced alternative.
Is it better to go the grocery store and be pampered and wowed with shiny, colorful labels? Or is it better to have a simpler experience and get exactly what you need, while spending less time and money? I’ve come to think the later, but it took me a while. At some level I think this gets into our view of luxury and the treatment we “expect” and “deserve”.
Yes, I love the innovation and efficiency. Sometimes it feels tiresome to bag lots of groceries with little kids in tow, but again it is just absurd to pay almost double for such a small thing. Plus our son is now old enough to help with it a little so he gets to contribute. And I much prefer that to him feeling entitled to a cart concierge (love it) or bagger.
Regarding ALDI efficiencies and bags, I LOVE to grab the used boxes and use those to carry groceries home! Their boxes are designed to open on the side so the products are sold directly out of the box. Then, when a box is empty, you can grab it off the shelf and fill it with groceries. So for ALDI, no need to clean up the boxes, buy and give out bags, or worry about disposing the boxes… And for me, I bring home groceries in awesome boxes, which sometimes the kids snag and use for playing. OK maybe I love boxes too much, but come on that’s pretty cool. lol.
Aldi’s is amazing! Here is another tip for those with older kids who pack lunches for school or have kids who need individual snacks on the go. Don’t buy the pre-packaged snack packs! They are mostly processed crap anyway and per individual package, outrageously expensive. Instead, if you need to have individual snack bags, buy a large bag of something then Aldi’s has “snack” size bags you can divide them up in for 2 cents each. For example, at Giant Eagle a 3-pack of mini carrots is $1.99 ($0.66 each). At Aldi’s today I got a bag of snack carrots for $0.59, and it made 10 bags, coming out to about 8 cents a bag (including the 2 cents for the bag). Another example: At Walmart, 8 snack bags of cheddar cheese rice cakes is $3.48 (44 cents per bag). At Aldi, the bulk bag of it is $1.99 and it made 8 snack bags at the same weight as the Wal-Mart bags (so 27 cents per bag).
Awesome tip and great examples. This sounds like a task easy enough for school-age children to help with, and another chance for them to participate in a lifestyle of less waste.
Apparently you’re on to something here; look what I found in business insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/this-is-the-best-grocery-store-in-america-and-its-cheaper-than-trader-joes-2015-1 Apparently Aldi’s is how Germans always do grocery shopping.
Interesting. ALDI has been getting more attention and positive reviews in the U.S. recently. The model makes a lot of sense.
I really tried to shop at this aldi’s but the fruits and vegi’s were old and decaying every time I went there I switched to Marc’s did not experience an increase but man if I go into the big stores the cost is way more than Marc’s giant eagle wanted $3 for celery Marc’s is $1.50 but in the summer I love our garden and the farmers markets
That’s great you found another discount option. I agree that gardens are the best!
Unfortunately it’s not quite as simple where I live (PEI, Canada). I believe my best option would be Costco but that requires a three hour drive and a $45.50 bridge toll. That said, this article does inspire me to put in a little extra legwork to see if it’s worth my time to shop around a a couple different grocery stores to get the best deals from both. Currently I stick to one store and stock up extra on items I know I’ll use when there’s a sale.
Stocking up on a sales is a good option if you don’t have discount stores nearby. Check out our part 2 blog on the topic for principles that apply at any store.
This week, I am traveling with my husband who is on a trip for work. There’s no Aldi in my state, but there is here.
I went yesterday to pick up some snacks for the hotel … and I wish I could take some of these bargains back with me! (Limited by luggage space and airline restrictions.)
I took pictures at Aldi. Two pounds of pears for two dollars. Bosc, anjou, or red. Kiwi, 1.49 a pound. Clementines less than a dollar a pound.
I did buy cucumbers and blueberries for the hotel. And chocolate. And I’ll take some chocolate back for my teenager.
We used to live in the Midwest. After we moved, I had dreams about Aldi. Really.
So do you still shop at Aldi? We’ve gone a few times but not sure we could get everything there.
Yes, I shop there once a week and get most of what I need. Ours doesn’t carry a couple fresh items like cilantro and ginger so sometimes I pick those up elsewhere.